After two Man of the Match awards at the CHAN tournament and some assured showings, could the diminutive winger have earned himself a World Cup berth?
By Kolade Oni
So many things happen to humans in life that make them wonder where their next big opportunity will come from. It is difficult to know what the future holds for us because we do not have such abilities to determine what will come to pass even in the immediate future. We keep on striving hard for the best and wait for when our moment of truth will come whether near or far.
The above introduction aptly describes the sudden sweet experience that must have been felt by the diminutive Super Eagles star Ejike Christantus Uzoenyi at the ongoing African Nations Championship. The winger is enjoying a resurgence in the national team through the competition meant for players plying their trade in their domestic leagues.
He was in the squad that travelled to the Africa Cup of Nations last January, also in South Africa, but only made a brief cameo appearance. He did, however, win the title with the senior squad, Stephen Keshi’s blend of domestic-based and Europe-based professionals. Uzoenyi’s name will stand along those who were part of the Super Eagles’ triumphs in 1980 and 1994, even though he was a non-playing member of the squad for the majority of the competition.
Prior to the AFCON, Uzoenyi delivered some inspiring performances in the qualifiers for both the World Cup and the AFCON, but things went awry for him and he was a shadow of himself in some games played after the qualification ticket to the Nations Cup was secured.
He featured twice in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in the earlier fixtures against the Brave Warriors of Namibia on June 3, 2012 but he struggled to impose himself and repeatedly made errors. His movement was predictable and he was later substituted before a late goal by Ikechukwu Uche saved the Eagles’ blushes.
Keshi gave him another opportunity six days later in Blantyre against the Flames of Malawi, but again, he didn't measure up to standard and had to be dropped.
Having enjoyed a promising start to life with the national team, the former Enyimba player's problems started when he moved to Rennes of France on a short loan after the 2013 AFCON. The French club promised they would make it permanent if the petite player impressed them during the loan spell.
He couldn't get the desired playing time for the club and had to be omitted by the Eagles' selectors and replaced by other players that featured more prominently for their teams in the race for the World Cup ticket. He was consistently overlooked for the rest of 2013 as Keshi’s young squad built on their AFCON triumph.
|The times they are a-changing
He heeded the advice of experts and returned to the club that loaned him to France, Enugu Rangers as soon as it became evident his loan move would not be made permanent. His moment of truth came when Keshi gave him another chance to re-launch his international career with the CHAN side.
Uzoenyi came in at a time the Big Boss was still brooding at the decision of some of his important squad members to dump the team for overseas contracts, making them ineligible for the tournament. Godfrey Oboabona moved to Turkey, Sunday Mba to France and Gomo Onduku to Romania in search of a destiny overseas.
He was invited for the friendly match against Jordan and it marked the beginning of his inclusion in the South Africa-bound CHAN Eagles squad, it soon became immaterial that he had not participated in the qualifiers at all.
He also played in some friendly matches organised against local clubs in the country and never disappointed, looking accomplished throughout.
With the non-inclusion of Mba, Oboabona, Mohammed Gambo and some other notable league stars due to either a search for greener pastures or injury, Uzoenyi, Azubuike Egwuekwe and Chigozie Agbim were expected to raise the bar and give the inexperienced Eagles the confidence with which to fly in South Africa.
So far, he has looked the part, with two Man of the Match Awards under his belt against Mozambique and South Africa and two world class goals that could have even been a hat trick against Bafana Bafana.
Following his assured performance against South Africa last Sunday, Nigerians are praying that Uzoenyi can replicate that same predatory instinct during the quarter-final.
The Aba-born star is blessed with a good left leg and can twist and meander his way past opposing players. He also has an eye for goal, and can score from anywhere up to 25 yards.
If he doesn't get complacent, Uzoenyi could be one of the stars of the latter stages, he could even be a key figure as Nigeria try and complete a remarkable 12 months.
Football analysts in the country are already tipping the diminutive forward for a role in the 2014 World Cup squad.Simply put, Uzoenyi now has his Nigerian destiny, if not the world, at his feet.
If he can sustain the momentum he enjoys at the moment and not become distracted by the commendations of observers, then he could complete an unlikely return to the national side.
A CHAN title would certainly go down well, and it would provide Uzoenyi, along with some of his team-mates, a platform upon which to stake a claim for a World Cup berth.